IBAC announces corruption investigation into V/Line and Metro

Victoria’s Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) has formally announced that it is conducting an investigation into serious corrupt conduct in Victoria’s public transport sector.

The announcement follows months of rumours which have swirled since V/Line CEO James Pinder was stood down by the Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll in August.

The investigation will focus on procurement and tendering processes within the Victorian public transport sector, with suggestions that cleaning contracts may be a focus.

IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said the investigation would cover the management of contracts between V/Line, Metro and suppliers.

“The hearings will examine the effectiveness of controls associated with the proper delivery of essential services in the state’s public transport system during a time of critical importance to the health and wellbeing of Victorians,” said Redlich.

Hearings will begin on Monday, October 26 and be streamed online.

“As part of IBAC’s focus on preventing corruption, the public hearings will also consider whether the current systems and controls are sufficient to protect the integrity of the tendering and procurement process, and examine potential systemic issues, including how organisational culture and practices may have contributed,” said Redlich.

Hearings will look into whether contract tender and procurement processes were swayed by monetary incentives or gifts.

Since being stood down, Pinder has been replaced by Gary Liddle, who had previously steered V/Line through a troubled period in 2016 when safety concerns led to regional services not being able to travel through Melbourne. Nick Foa, head of transport services at the Department of Transport briefly stood in before Liddle was appointed.

Metro Trains rollingstock manager Peter Bollas was also stood down in August due to the same investigation.

Metro Trains Melbourne providing pathways for overseas-qualified engineers

Five engineers from refugee and asylum seeker background have begun their Australian professional journey with Metro Trains Melbourne in 2020.

The Engineering Pathways Industry Cadetship or EPIC program provides pathways for qualified engineers from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds to work in Australia.

Metro Trains in partnership with the Level Crossing Removal Project has placed five cadets this year in major transport infrastructure projects.

Metro’s Executive Director – Projects Peter Gleeson said the EPIC program enables those with overseas qualifications to contribute to Victoria’s Big Build.

“The EPIC program gives people pathways to further their engineering careers – with on-site experience, a recognised qualification, and exposure to some of the biggest transport projects the state has ever seen,” Gleeson said.

“There’s never been a better time to be part of the infrastructure transformation across our city, and with a huge demand for engineering skills, these cadets will only go from strength to strength.”

The EPIC program overcomes a significant barrier for those with engineering qualifications that were achieved overseas. Only those with qualifications from a select number of countries are recognised in Australia, leading to many with engineering qualifications who could contribute to the rail skills pipeline working outside of their field.

In a 2011 report, Perspectives on Migrants, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that 65 per cent of all recent migrants had a non-school qualification before arriving in Australia, however only a third of these had their overseas qualification recognised.

One of the cadets, Mayat Mnayrji, has worked on the South-Eastern Program Alliance for stations and VicTrack interface.

“The EPIC program is really fantastic, giving overseas engineers the opportunity to get more work experience and improve themselves, as well studying a very useful course.”

Ilab Qassab, who holds a Bachelor in Electrical Engineering (power and machine) from the University of Mosul, in Iraq, has been based in the Metropolitan Roads Program Alliance, working with the rail team.

“I am very proud to be one of the EPIC program cadets. This program gave us a great opportunity to start our career in Australia and achieve our goals as we came from other countries.”

In addition to an Australian qualification, cadets also gain valuable work experience on major projects. In the ABS report, 64 per cent of recent migrants said that a lack of Australian work experience or references was a barrier to their employment. Ali Firwana, originally from Gaza, Palestine holds a Bachelor of Industrial Engineer and is working as a combined services route site engineer on the Frankston Line.

“Having work experience and industry-focused education is incredibly useful, and I am learning new things on a daily basis with Metro.”

Gleeson said the work of the cadets is invaluable for Victoria’s infrastructure pipeline.

“These five cadets have been doing fantastic work for Metro to help shape the Victorian government’s Big Build, which is transforming our public transport network.”

Plan for Metro lines to South East Sydney

The NSW government has released the South East Sydney Transport Strategy and included in the preferred scenario two new metro lines to be built by 2041 and 2056.

The Strategy outlines how Transport for NSW expects to respond to growing population in South East Sydney, an area of the city stretching from Redfern to La Perouse and to Rockdale.

The first metro line would extend from the CBD to Green Square, and Randwick and terminate at La Perouse. The second would begin at Randwick and travel to Kogarah via Sydney Airport.

The CBD to La Perouse metro line would be an extension of Sydney Metro West, and is the first Metro line to be completed, in 2041.

Metro between Randwick and Kogarah would be delivered by 2056 and would extend beyond Kogarah to Miranda.

In addition to the new metro lines, a rapid bus network would link the south east. A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that the combination was preferred over light rail options.

“After considerable consultation with Councils and other key stakeholders, two new Metro lines were considered to be the most effective means to provide for the transport needs of South East Sydney into the coming decades. Light Rail was considered, but a Rapid Bus and Metro combination allowed for better outcomes in terms of delivery and connectivity.”

The Strategy also assumes that metro will connect Hurstville and Macquarie Park and Kogarah and Norwest.

The Strategy acknowledges that current transport infrastructure in the region is not meeting the needs of the population.

Stations on the Airport Line, the only heavy rail line that runs through the region, reach capacity by 7.15am. With three in six trains arriving over capacity and four in six trains departing over capacity between 7.45 and 8.45am. With further development forecast along the line there is a need for greater capacity.

“Transport for NSW recognises that as South East Sydney continues to grow over the coming 30 years, new lines will be needed to support existing infrastructure,” said the Transport for NSW spokesperson.

The Strategy also covers the Port Botany area and while not recommending further rail to the port beyond the Port Botany Rail Line Duplication project, does set out as an objective that Port Botany has “easy access by all modes to local commercial, industrial and employment precincts.” The Strategy however does not include passenger rail to Port Botany, only recommending that Port Botany be connected via bus and private vehicle to the rest of Sydney.

The Strategy marks a shift in transport planning for the South East region of Sydney. Instead of taking a “predict and provide” approach, the Strategy identifies a vision for the region and then indicates the proposed transport infrastructure. As written in the Strategy:

“This approach recognises that continuing to accept current mode share, and in particular high levels of private car use, is not going to realise the vision, rather it will lead to increased road congestion and reduced accessibility for local residents, workers and visitors.”

Metro

Rollingstock innovations keep Metro trains on track

Metro Trains Melbourne’s Comeng, Siemens and X’Trapolis fleets have undergone major maintenance to ensure the trains are kept to the highest standard and improve the experience for passengers.

Melbourne trains are being retrofitted with wireless data recorders to monitor key train systems, improve safety and reliability, and maintenance, enabling the trains are available to run on the network more often.

The On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system will give Metro engineers access to near real time data so they can monitor train performance, identify faults sooner, and maintain trains more efficiently.

Metro has recently installed the state-of-the-art technology on 174 three-carriage X’Trapolis train units.

The OBD project is being completed at the Newport rail workshops and has now moved on to the Siemens fleet.

The system is used to monitor everything including vibration in critical train bogie components, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, as well as passenger body-side doors, traction, auxiliary power supply, and passenger information systems.

This helps Metro diagnose and respond to potential issues sooner, reducing the risk of passengers being delayed by train faults.

Metro’s general manager of rolling stock, Dave Carlton said that Metro was completing a world first with this technology.

“We’re proud to be leading the largest-ever retrofit of remote condition monitoring equipment on an existing train fleet, globally,” he said.

“The data we collect from this technology is being shared across Metro, which benefits our operations, infrastructure and network development teams.”

Technical upgrades have also been carried out on the oldest vehicles in the Metro fleet. 75 per cent of the Comeng fleet, which in total numbers 179 trains are being overhauled, with passenger-facing and engineering improvements.

In 2017, a three-stage, $75 million upgrade project began, funded by the Victorian government.

Metro’s CEO Raymond O’Flaherty said the project will extend the life of the fleet.

“The Comeng fleet has served the people of Melbourne for almost 40 years, they are brilliant trains and they’ve certainly got more life left in them,” he said.

“We have very stringent maintenance programs for all our trains, that’s one of the reasons they are still so reliable. It’s also essential that we utilise all the technical advances that are available, and this life extension program makes sure that our passengers have the best possible experience on board.”

The life extension project has three stages, of which the first two are complete.

Stage one included critical-safety improvements to Comeng train doors – a feature now standard on all Metro trains.

Stage two was focused on the passenger experience, including rearranging and reupholstering seating, installing LED lights, new grab poles and straps, safer gang-way bellows, and new digital signage on the front of trains to give passengers destination information.

Upgrades have also been made to the driver’s instrument panel.

Stage three is the project’s final stage and is now almost complete. It involves upgrades to the passenger information system, with digital displays inside the carriages tracking the train’s journey in real-time.

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said that upgrades would also increase safety for passengers, with new high definition CCTV cameras been fitted with a wider field of view that can be accessed remotely, which will support Metro and Victoria Police investigations.

“We can access camera footage remotely as soon as issues are reported – helping Metro and Victoria Police respond to incidents as quickly as possible and giving Victorians peace of mind that their journeys are safe.”

There are also improvements to hearing-aid links for people with additional needs and upgraded speakers for clearer on-board announcements.

On the engineering side, the trains’ air brakes are being overhauled, while the electrical relay panel and traction systems are being upgraded to support a safer journey.

For the Siemens fleet, Metro’s middle child, Metro partnered with accessibility group Vision Australia to support new safety upgrades for the Siemens fleet

New bellows were needed between carriages, which has instituted an “outer wall” that fills in the gap between the train and the platform.

By providing an exterior that is flat along the full length of the train, Metro has reduced the risk of falls for vision-impaired passengers who may mistake the gap for a door.

Since an upgrade program commenced in February this year, more than 20 per cent of Siemens trains have been upgraded with the new bellows.

As well as being safer for passengers, the upgrades also provide sound-proofing, making the carriages quieter for a more comfortable journey.

Together with Vision Australia, Metro used a mock-up train carriage to test the design to ensure it provided all the necessary safety features.

The mock-up train is used by Vision Australia to help familiarise vision-impaired passengers and enable them to move confidently around trains, while also teaching guide dogs how to navigate the network.

Carlton said this work was important for the community.

“The work we do to make sure our trains and stations are fully accessible for all our passengers is absolutely essential. Providing a public transport service means making sure that every person can use our network without limitation,” he said.

“These new gangways give us extra confidence that not only are we continuously improving safety, but we are improving the passenger experience. It’s not just about getting to your destination, it’s about getting to your destination as easily and comfortably as possible.”

A mock-up of a Siemens-class train for vision-impaired passengers.
Melbourne Metro Train. Photo: Creative Commons / Zed Fitzhume

Performance figures in May outstrip April records in Victoria

The performance and punctuality of Victoria’s rail transport network improved again in May.

With April seeing some of the highest figures for on-time running and availability, May’s results were a step further.

Across all metrics except for tram reliability figures were higher in May than in April.

According to Metro Trains Melbourne, these figures were the result of a quieter network in May due to work from home restrictions imposed due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Patronage across the network decreased in May.

“We’re always striving to do better and this focus will support us as trains return to more normal patronage levels,” said a Metro spokesperson.

Train services in May were on time 96.2 per cent of the time, while 94.3 per cent of trams were on time and 92.8 per cent of regional trains were on time.

For reliability, 99.1 per cent of scheduled train services were delivered in May, while 98.6 tram services were delivered and 97.4 per cent of regional trains were delivered.

For V/Line services, the most reliable short distance line was the Seymour line, while the most punctual were services on the Geelong line. On the long distance lines, all Swan Hill & Echuca and Bairnsdale services were delivered, while services on the Warrnambool line were the most punctual.

Delays caused by people getting on and off services dropped due to fewer people on the Melbourne network, while trespassing and vandalism also fell.

With some restrictions in Victoria beginning to ease, transport operators are asking passengers to keep each other safe.

“Our priority is improving performance and delivering a reliable service for those who depend on our trains, so they can get to where they need to go,” said a Metro spokesperson.

EIS for Sydney Metro West released, Rydalmere station dropped

The NSW government has released the first environmental impact statement (EIS) for Sydney Metro West, scrapping a proposed station at Rydalmere.

The EIS provides more detail on the route which will connect the Parramatta and Sydney CBDs. The EIS covers the section from Westmead to the Bays Precinct.

A separate EIS will be released for the section from the Bays Precinct to the Sydney CBD, with the location of a station in the CBD still to be confirmed. A station in Pyrmont is still listed as “optional”.

With the removal of the optional station at Rydalmere, the distance between consecutive stations Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park would be between eight and nine kilometres, depending on the alignment. Most metro systems globally have an average distance between stops of between 1.2 and 1.3km.

The EIS outlines where the main works will be undertaken for civil construction works, including tunnelling, and excavation for stations. Major work sites will be established at Westmead, Parramatta between Macquarie Street and George Street, Clyde – where a stabling facility will be built, Burwood North, and the Bays Precinct. Two tunnel boring machines will each begin at The Bays and Westmead, with all four being extracted at the site in Sydney Olympic Park.

Releasing the EIS, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that Metro West is a “once in a century” project.

“It’s been almost 100 years since the Harbour Bridge transformed Sydney. Now this underground Metro is going to be the modern day game changer for our city, serving us for decades to come.”

The EIS proposes to ease the pressure on the existing heavy rail system from population growth in Western Sydney, which is forecast to grow to 3.2 million people by 2036, by diverting commuters from the T1 Western Line, T9 Northern Line and the T2 Inner West and Leppington Line.

The EIS estimates a drop in customer numbers at some of Sydney’s busiest stations. It finds that there will be a 32 per cent fall in customer numbers on the T1 Western Line at Parramatta by 2036, a 36 per cent reduction at Strathfield, and a 35 per cent reduction at Redfern. This will cut crowing by roughly 30 per cent at North Strathfield, Strathfield, Redfern, and Burwood stations.

In addition, Sydney Metro West proposes faster travel times between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with services targeted to take 20 minutes. The line will also increase the number of services, from 56 trains an hour to 116, increasing capacity from 65,440 customers an hour to 157,600 customers.

The NSW government has released an expression of interest for contractors to deliver the twin tunnels between Westmead and The Bays.

Heritage-listed tree saved at a Melbourne train station

Metro Trains has confirmed that urgent works will commence at Newmarket Station in Inner Melbourne, including saving the river red gum and peppercorn trees.

Catherine Baxter, Metro Chief Operating Officer said works will commence next week to secure the station’s structure and protect the historic buildings into the future.

“We’ve listened to community feedback and are working closely with Council on plans to protect the heritage station and improve the precinct for years to come,” she said.

Moonee Valley City Council said it has worked with Metro to save the heritage-listed river red gum and a peppercorn tree at Newmarket Station.

“Metro has listened to our concerns and will save the significant tree, working around it to make the station and platform safe,” the Council said in a statement.

One pittosporum tree will be removed under the Rail Management Act. Council and Metro have agreed this needs to happen straight away for platform upgrades to take place.

Metro stated that the ageing Newmarket station platforms and retaining walls will be rebuilt. Works will take place over the next six weeks.

A bespoke engineering solution has been designed to save the two trees so they continue to provide shelter, amenity, and biodiversity for the local community.

Metro said in a statement that they have agreed with Council that following further detailed arborist and engineering assessments, one pittosporum tree, which is an invasive weed species, on the eastern side of the station must be removed to allow for the urgent works to proceed.

Moonee Valley City Council said Metro will apply for planning approval to remove any other trees at the station in order to maintain safety or do key works.

Metro stated that it advised Council that no other trees will be removed without planning permission unless it is determined that a tree poses an immediate safety risk to users of the station precinct.

Further analysis is being done by Metro in relation to trees and platform safety on the Pin Oak Crescent side of the station.

Metro and Council continue to work on landscaping and replanting plans for the Pin Oak Crescent side of the station and will work together to implement additional safety measures based on expert advice as required.

“The safety of the community and our passengers remains our absolute priority,” Baxter said.

Deal complete for 1,500 cars for Berlin underground

Swiss-based railcar manufacturer Stadler has won the contract for 1,500 underground metro cars for the Berlin transport network, Berliner Vekehrsbetriebe (BVG).

The framework agreement, worth up to 3 billion Euros, will also include the supply of spare parts for 32 years.

The announcement, made on March 20, followed the rejection by the Berlin Court of Appeal of a review procedure initiated by an unsuccessful bidder.

The agreement includes a fixed minimum order of 606 cars. Stadler will supply 376 cars for two to four-car vehicle units across the small and large profile sections of the Berlin underground network. Another 230 cars have been ordered, but the call off order has not yet been placed. An additional 894 cars could also be ordered at a later date, however that part of the agreement is optional.

Stadler already has rail vehicles in use on the U1, U2, and U5 lines in Berlin. The new cars will be based on the Stadler-METRO vehicles with the design optimised for improved access, and faster passenger loading and unloading.

A revised design will see the information screens moved from the door to the curved intercar connection between the side wall and ceiling.

“We are delighted that BVG has decided to continue its successful cooperation with our company. We are very proud to have won one of the largest delivery contracts ever awarded in Europe and to be able to complete the order in Berlin for Berlin,” said Jure Mikolčić, CEO of Stadler in Germany.

The new cars will be built at the Stadler Berlin-Pankow site, where Stadler will invest 70 million euros. The investment will go towards a new production hall, and spaces for logistics and commissioning. Furthermore, office space and a new canteen for workers will be built.

“We have decided to bring forward our planned investments in the Stadler location in the German capital in order to create an optimal basis for the implementation of this major project,” said Mikolčić.

Doha Metro nears completion

Doha, the capital city of Qatar, is closing in on opening its automated metro network in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The network is designed to do the heavy lifting for the expected one million visitors who will attend the World Cup, as well as increasing the share of journeys via public transport in Qatar from 0.5 per cent to 21 per cent.

Electrical systems provider Thales is supplying both major elements of the metro system and providing project management services as the interface between civil works providers and electromechanical suppliers.

Thales will supply the train control system – in this case Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) driverless signalling – as well as the Operational Control Centre, passenger information and announcement systems, CCTV, and automatic fare collection.

Sustainability is a core component of the project, both in shifting commuters from cars to metros, and by reducing the network’s consumption of energy.

“The Doha Metro will be a real solution to traffic congestion, and the Metro’s efficient operations will save energy. Furthermore, Thales signalling systems will enable operators to adjust operations depending on consumption of electricity,” said Arnaud Besse, marketing and communications director for Urban Rail Signalling at Thales.

When complete, the metro network will cover 85km via 37 stations. A fleet of 110 fully automated trains will traverse the network, connecting Hamad International Airport, the Old City, and the inner suburbs of Doha.

“The Red Line has already started operating. It will be the longest line, with 18 stations over more than 40 kilometres. The Gold Line, made up of 11 stations, is also in service. Both lines have already enabled the operator to serve commuters and tourists,” said Jean Saupin, general project manager for the Doha Metro.

The last metro station, Legtalifiya Station is expected to open later in 2020, to connect the Metro with the to be finished Lusail Tram.